“In 2010, sound artist Richard Chartier was awarded a Smithsonian Institution Artist Research Fellowship to explore the National Museum of American History’s collection of 19th century acoustic apparatus for scientific demonstration. Chartier focused on the works of German physicist Rudolf Koenig, including the “Grand Tonometer”, a set of 692 precise tuning forks which express the frequency range between 260Hz and 4096Hz. During his Fellowship, Chartier individually recorded each of this unique instrument’s existing tuning forks as well as many other instruments, devices, and their tonal interactions” (press release for Transparency).
To merely attempt to “review” such a piece, would be considered an odd and foolish exercise. It is impossible to assess the tones that make up the audio spectrum as “good” or “bad”. It is, however, possible to assess HOW the tones are arranged to form a coherent piece. Yet this is nor the time or the place for such an exercise. As Transparency is a study of the tones themselves and their interactions with one another, I find it fitting to simply describe what I experienced while immersed in this hour long performance.
Subtle sonar like pings set the piece off. Tones at the upper end of the audio spectrum fizz away like mechanical insects, as heartbeat pulses echo through the background. More pinging tones echo prominently though the mist, as the track nears what you might hear at a remedial therapist’s waiting room. Yet far from being an insult of sorts, I feel this reflects the mood this work can inflict upon the listener. Hypnotic notes glide across a sea of looped tones, like rubbing the rim of a wine glass while flicking the rim of another. Bass tones like giant footsteps echo out into the dark. An overall sensation of expanse is at work here, both physical and non-physical: almost as if you’re floating in space and yet at the same time you ARE space itself. Gradually the piece morphs into a meditation of itself, a seance of sorts. At no time is anything forced or rushed, and yet nothing drags or slows things down. Such senses of momentum are otherwise suspended for the duration of proceedings. At the risk of sounding contrived, I would liken it to a meditative experience, an uncompromising reflection of sound itself.
It is difficult to find words to encapsulate the material in question, apart from ……What sound is, and what sound can be. These would be the points i could use to describe this work. With this work, Richard Chartier has demonstrated quite clearly that he is for all intent and purposes a master of his craft. Best reflected upon in the dark, in silence, at high volume.